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Anatomy of a Promotion: Evaluating No-verlay At Ultimate Poker New Jersey

Noverlay at Ultimate Poker
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The New Jersey arm of Ultimate Poker is about to close the books on one of the more creative promotions in the relatively short history of U.S. regulated online poker: No-verlay.

The concept behind No-verlay is simple: If a tournament with a guaranteed prize pool at Ultimate Poker NJ hits the guarantee, then all participants receive their buy-in back.

The No-verlay promotion concludes Sunday, March 9th.

Obviously the promotion is creative, but creative doesn’t always equal successful when you’re talking about promotions at online poker rooms.

So let’s dig into the actual outcomes generated by No-verlay to get a sense of how Ultimate was rewarded – if at all – for its outside-the-box thinking by the NJ online poker market.

No-verlay was virtually no-risk

One important note that informs any analysis of no-verlay: the promotion carried basically no downside for Ultimate Poker.

Prior to No-verlay, Ultimate was already accruing substantial weekly costs in overlays (the difference between a guaranteed tournament prize pool and the prize pool generated by entries).

If No-verlay worked, the reduction in costs on the overlay side would help to offset the costs of refunding players their buy-ins for a tournament that met the guarantee. If it didn’t, then Ultimate faced no additional costs. And if it fell somewhere in the middle – increasing turnout but not to the point where guarantees were making across the board –  then Ultimate reduced their overlay costs without footing the buy-in bill.

The fact that buy-ins were refunded in tournament dollars also helped to mitigate the potential cost of the promotion.

So if nothing else, Ultimate deserves credit for finding a way to leverage a negative into a positive in a manner that exposed them to very little financial downside.

The impact of No-verlay on Ultimate Poker NJ

There are a few ways to discuss the impact of No-verlay: tournament turnout, cash game traffic and brand awareness are three I’d like to focus on.

Tournament turnout

By most measures, No-verlay should be considered a success in terms of increasing turnout for tournaments at Ultimate Poker NJ.

One example can be found in the chart below showing field sizes for Ultimates Sunday major, a $91+9 with a $20,000 guarantee:

Ultimate Poker NJ No-overlay impact

March 2nd was the culmination of No-verlay’s impact on the tournament lobby at Ultimate NJ. In addition to the $20k hitting its player cap for the first time, Ultimate also:

  • Reached the guarantee for the $5k nightly for the first time.
  • Hit the player cap for the 2nd Chance Nightly.
  • Met the guarantee on 5 out of 9 No-verlay tournaments.
  • Refunded over $40,000 to players as part of the No-verlay promotion.

Ultimate also reports that they had 654 unique poker sessions on March 2nd, up 11% from last week and up 55% from the Sunday before No-verlay began.

The obvious caveat is that Ultimate accompanied the No-verlay promotion with several complimentary promotions, such as giving away seats to their Sunday major to winners of other tournaments that hit the No-verlay threshold.

But growth is growth and tends to beget growth, so I’d say this area counts as a clear win for Ultimate.

Cash game traffic

Unfortunately for Ultimate, the increased activity in the tournament lobby did not clearly translate into more action at the cash tables.

According to data from PokerFuse Pro, powered by PokerScout.com, cash game activity increased during the No-verlay period, but by an amount too insignificant to rely on as an accurate indicator of growth.

While disappointing, this outcome isn’t terribly surprising. By paying refunds in tournament dollars, Ultimate ensured that the majority of the extra activity would be focused in the tournament lobby.

And concentrating the extra action in the tournament lobby was arguably a smarter call than trying to push tournament players into the cash lobby, which would have been a risk and potentially diluted the overall impact of the promotion.

Brand awareness

Quantification of this impact is a slippery pursuit. No-verlay generated what I would characterize as an average amount of coverage for a promotion in the poker media. A brief sampling of some outlets:

  • PokerFuse ran two dedicated articles on No-verlay and mentioned it in several others.
  • CardPlayer covered the promotion with a brief article.
  • PokerNews did not cover the promotion, best can I tell.
  • Nor did a search for Ultimate Poker or No-verlay return a relevant result at Bluff.
  • USPoker.com ran a brief article on No-verlay.
  • OPR ran a few pieces either focused on or including extensive mention of No-verlay.

I am not aware of the promotion breaking through to media in other genres, with the exception of a few mentions in local New Jersey outlets.

In terms of social impact, the chart below shows the Twitter volume levels as measured by Topsy of No-verlay:

Topsy: NOverlayWhich you can compare to volume levels for Ultimate Poker:

Topsy: Ultimate Poker

I think it’s fair to call this a modest success relative to the general level of chatter surrounding Ultimate on Twitter.

One thing the promotion didn’t do: generate much meta discussion.

A good example of a promotion that did: WSOP raising the Main Event winner’s guarantee to $10mm, which sparked peripheral conversations about tournament structure, promoting poker in the mainstream and a variety of other topics.

Where Ultimate Poker goes from here

Ultimate’s return on the No-verlay promotion seems like a positive one from an external perspective.

With that in mind, the room would do well to use No-verlay as a foundation for building a larger reputation for creativity in general and innovative promotions specifically.

That sort of reputation won’t come overnight, but can pay real dividends for a room fighting to distinguish itself in New Jersey.

Ultimate would also likely benefit from an approach that melds this newly-minted strength with their existing strengths: strong customer service and a roster of media-friendly pros.

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Chris Grove
- Chris is the publisher of OnlinePokerReport.com. Grove also serves as a consultant to various stakeholders in the regulated market for online gambling in the United States.